Shortly after World War II in 1946, Farragut Naval Training Depot was closed and deactivated.
By war’s end, 293,381 recruits passed through the base. It was in fact the second-largest naval training base in the country. What many don’t know about Farragut was that in addition to basic training, several technical training battalions were operated from the base, as well as a camp dedicated to returning wounded. The hospital at the base was the second largest in the country.
On Sept. 11, surviving veterans from that war who attended basic training as well as technical schools, gathered together to reminisce about old times and visit old friends. Old in many ways, since most of the attendees were in their mid-80s or older. Old because many had not been back since 1943 or 1944. Three veterans who attend every year, Al Sweetman, Gene Cooper and Charles Lish, raised the flag with great pride.
This year was special, since the reunion and dedication of the flag was held on 9/11, which, as we know, is the modern day equivalent of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. After the ceremonies, the flag was briefly lowered to half-staff to honor those who fell in the tragic terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York City and elsewhere. Many attendees have experienced the honor flights that take veterans back to Washington, D.C. in celebration of their service and sacrifices.
Several vets who I met for the first time had stories that were very interesting. Ora “Bull” Durham served on the carrier Enterprise. While joining the ship after the big battles of Midway early in the war, he served during the invasions of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. During that period he witnessed many kamikaze attacks as poorly trained pilots with just enough fuel to reach the U.S. fleet, and not enough to return would crash their planes into the decks of whatever large ship they could find. Bull, (could a guy with that last name have any other handle?) said that the ship had 22 battle stars, with 13 while he was serving on the ship.
His buddy, Andy Anderson, went through Farragut boot camp then was transferred to another squadron for signal school. There he learned Morse code, which flags to raise for what signal, and semaphore, which was still in use at that time. He claimed that there was a chief boatswain mate in his mid-60s serving on the base. This unnamed person apparently served in the Spanish-American War, retired in 1938, then attempted to re-enlist for WWII. He was turned down for being over age. The rumor had it that President Roosevelt intervened, granting him a waiver. This chief had no specific duties, and served in kind of a public relations role.
One person who wasn’t expected to make it this year was local country music legend Slim Dossey. Slim, 91, went through basic at Farragut and served in the Pacific. Last year he fell at home and cracked several vertebrae in his back. He now lives in an assisted-living home, spending much of his time in a wheelchair. Hobbling into the shelter at sunrise, accompanied by his son Jim, Slim arrived, using a walker. He then proceeded to belt out several old country tunes for the audience. Slim turns 92 on Nov. 3.
There just isn’t any quit in these guys. Actually, guys and gals. Many of the ship’s company, or permanent personnel, were WAVES, and usually a few of them showed up as well.